By Ethan Forman
---- — MIDDLETON — The School Committee for the sprawling, $133 million regional technical school now rising on the campus of Essex Aggie in Danvers has unanimously picked North Shore Technical High Superintendent-Director Daniel O’Connell to lead what will be known as Essex Tech.
“The word that we keep hearing, and the word that is driving me forward, is ‘passion,’” said Melissa Teixeira, a member of the Gloucester School Committee who serves as that board’s representative on the regional vo-tech panel.
The committee picked O’Connell during a Thursday meeting in the media center of the 475-student regional vocational school that he presently directs.
“To finish your career in a school that is a national showcase” and merges two high-achieving schools, O’Connell said in his closing remarks, “it’s an educator’s dream.”
The committee chose O’Connell over Edward Bouquillon, the superintendent-director of Minuteman Regional in Lexington. Bouquillon passed over the job of heading Essex Aggie several years ago to take the Minuteman post.
“It surprises me, as well,” Bouquillon said about applying. Usually, superintendents of regional vocational schools do not look for other jobs, but he said the merger into a new facility was “a unique opportunity.”
O’Connell pointed out that he has been in education for 40 years. He started as a physical education teacher and director of athletics at Triton Regional and held administrative posts with Portsmouth High in New Hampshire, Haverhill High, Greater Lawrence Technical High in Andover, Methuen High and Burlington High before landing at North Shore Tech as principal in 2007. He became the superintendent-director in 2010.
O’Connell described the chance to lead the merger as “a great opportunity.” When asked to describe his management style, O’Connell said “the first word that comes to mind is ‘team,’” adding that he was someone who was both “transparent” and “totally honest.”
“He strives for a team approach recognizing the enormous challenge of merging many union and non-union employees together from the districts of North Shore Technical High School, Essex Agricultural & Technical High School and the Peabody vocational members,” said Teixeira. “He is ready to begin his superintendency at the Essex Technical High School having developed a draft transition merger plan with more than 170 tasks listed.”
The Gloucester representative added that O’Connell has shown his ability to lead efficiently.
“With only a .632 percent average budget increase with no reduction in work force since he began in 2010, O’Connell demonstrates strong creative budget building techniques,” Teixeira added. “By establishing a municipal busing business, the North Shore Tech’s budget recently received an impact of over $1 million in revenue. There is no doubt he is the superintendent to lead the new regional school in 21st century learning.”
Other regional school board members agreed.
“The thing that impressed me with Dan O’Connell was he mentioned the kids in a lot of decisions,” said Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School Committee Chairman George Harvey, who also serves as chairman of North Shore Tech.
Business, political and vocational leaders have pinned their hopes on the new 1,440-student regional school to train the future workforce of the North Shore.
The school, which is scheduled to open in September 2014, combines Essex Agricultural and Technical School’s agricultural and environmental programs, North Shore Tech’s vocational programs, and Peabody’s high school vocational programs. The school district draws from Gloucester and all three of Cape Ann’s towns — all of whom have been tuitioning students to Essex Aggie or North Shore Tech and have signed on to the new regional.
It was pointed out time and time again that whoever was picked had the daunting task of merging the culture of Essex Aggie and North Shore Tech, making sure that different labor union agreements are honored, and coming up with a leadership team.
In fact, when asked what he would do in his first 30 days as superintendent-director, O’Connell passed a memo referring to the 172 “to-do” items that Teixeira mentioned.
“The challenge is, no offense, we are late,” O’Connell said, in starting some items. “We need to do these things yesterday.”
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.